I am a writer. I put words on paper or screen all the time. I toy with them and roll them around in my mouth. I combine and rearrange them. I use them to achieve a desired effect. I am a highly trained user of words with aspirations for higher levels of mastery. I live with words. Yet, I am still awed and humbled by their raw and awesome power.
Combine the right words in the right way and you can start a war, make someone fall in love, and ruin or elevate lives. I was reminded of this power a few weeks ago when an incidental combination of words started an emotional shit storm. Just ask Rush Limbaugh about the importance of words. More recently, I was rebuked by a major corporation because of words. Think about that. Words, not actions.
In the age of the world wide interwebs, word power increases exponentially. Every Tom, Dick, and Darren can create a platform and find an audience. It is a socially disruptive force. Like the wheel or the printing press, it is a game changer. The higher ups on the social food chain are rightfully concerned.
Consider the power of the N word or the C word. They are words that carry so much power I didn’t even write them, but you all know what they are. Single words that cause intense emotional response. How many know “I have a dream” more than the event at which it was said? The words live longer than the actions. “Four score and seven years ago….” followed perhaps the most violent war in our nation’s history, but we remember the words. The events become incidental.
Think about how many combinations of words you carry around as emotional and social touchstones….
“A day that will live in infamy”
“I love you”
“Ask not what your country can do for you…..”
“Do you believe in miracles?”
The writer’s job is to recreate those stunning combinations of words and put them in a context that will make them resonate just as the above examples did. All users of words have an obligation to respect the power of those words. You can’t use a racial slur and then claim ignorance. You can’t yell fire in a theater. You can’t say “I love you” and not mean it.
“Call me Ishmael” – perhaps my three favorite words of fiction ever written. They’re forceful and establish tone, perspective and characterization…in just three words.
“To be or not to be” – yeah, it is Shakespeare so it’s an easy one. Still, in that one line he sums up the existential angst of his character and the whole drama. I have a 232 page novel in the works trying to answer the same question.
“For he on honeydew hath fed and drunk the milk of paradise….” amazingly disconcerting line from maybe the greatest poem ever. Coleridge makes eating melon ominous.
Words are powerful. Use them wisely. Use them well. They can lift or raze, create or destroy. It is all up to the user.
“And then my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils” – Wordsworth
I’m Darren, and I write….sometimes more carefully than others